Picks and Pans Review: Push Comes to Shove

updated 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/15/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp was destined for stardom. At least that's the way her mother saw it. When her first child arrived, the Indiana Quaker named her after the reigning Muncie Pig Princess but changed the spelling from "i" to "y" because it "would look better on a marquee."

Logging as much as 30,000 miles a year as a teen, rushing to lessons in ballet, elocution, viola, baton and several other disciplines, "I never stopped to ask, 'Why am I doing this?' " the choreographer writes in this engaging memoir. "I just went along, trusting that my mother had some grand master plan we were accomplishing together."

Not surprisingly, the conflicted, fierce perfectionist who emerged was hardly a happy-go-lucky adult. Tharp, now 51, maintained an iron rein over her emotions and lived for "those moments when my mind surrenders and my body takes over." She rebelled against her mother in every respect from her bohemian love life to her choice of music, while continuing to try to meet her mother's impossible standards. Determined "not to sacrifice my life to my child as my mother had done," Tharp sacrificed her son, Jesse, to her career.

But what a career it has been. Tharp takes us into what she calls the white zone, the creative crucible where she forged her own muscular brand of dance—"too balletic to be modern, too modern dance to be ballet"—and in the process helped win a whole new generation of dance fans. At times Tharp's account is painfully revealing: Few are likely to forget her description of undergoing an illegal abortion, with no anesthesia, as the Lovin' Spoonful song "Summer in the City" blared to cover her cries. But her memory is selective. Tharp's madcap younger siblings just vanish early on while her son makes what amounts to cameo appearances. She seems less than candid in dealing with the pressure that led her to fold her company into American Ballet Theatre and those that then led to her split from the troupe. For all its confessional tone, on the page as onstage Tharp choreographs exactly what she wants you to see. (Bantam, $24.50)

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